Statistics are unadorned. They say much and yet don’t say much. Statistics will confirm the dominance of Sachin Tendulkar in the 1994-95 home season, but they will never reveal the way he destroyed bowling attacks. From the “Baroda Dynamite” explosion against New Zealand in October 1994 to the “Bombay Blast” against Punjab in March 1995, “Sten’s” boom...boom batting had been a satiating tale to the connoisseurs and an unmitigated thrashing for the bowlers.
Tendulkar, who turned 22 on April 24, acknowledged that the 1994-95 home season had been an outstanding one for him. “The best,” he said. The crowning glory came when he led Bombay to its 32nd Ranji Trophy win in the final against Punjab. Tendulkar gave full vent to his batting in Tests, One-Day Internationals and in the cricket board-organised domestic tournaments.
Six summers may have been too long for someone like Tendulkar to have a near-perfect season; exactly the same number of years Tendulkar played in all kinds of cricket – from club cricket as an 11-year-old to Irani Cup – before earning his India cap.
The cricketing world is aware of the exalted stature of Tendulkar in contemporary cricket. It is just over a decade after Tendulkar was taken to coach Ramakant Achrekar at Kamath Memorial Club, Shivaji Park, by brother Ajit. In this interview, Tendulkar talks about some special moments, his famiy, music and, of course, cricket.
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Life has gone at a fast clip for you since 1989. There ought to be some special moments and special people, outside of cricket, who have helped you in your quest for success. Would you like to recall those “specials” in your life?
Yes. The first big thing or special moment was when I played for Bombay when I was only in Standard IX. I was in the schoolboys category and I was suddenly playing for Bombay. And the very first season I was the highest run-getter for Bombay... That was another special moment. That enhanced my reputation. My schoolmates would say, “He is not any more a schoolboy, he is playing for Bombay.” That was a special kind of thing.
Well, another special aspect was that the schoolteachers were willing to help me whenever I went to them for guidance. I used to go and attend those special classes. It was just that I had to miss classes in my last year in school. It was hard to cope with studies. My father (Ramesh Tendulkar) had a greater role to play in my success. He told me, “Whatever you want to be, see that you achieve something. Do something where the future is fully secured. I don’t want you to try out in every field. If you want to play tennis, establish yourself as a good tennis player. Or prove to be a good cricketer. I don’t want to compel you to pursue something.” This sort of advice and freedom helped me to concentrate on my cricket.
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The support which my family gave was absolutely marvellous. My parents, my brothers Ajit and Nitin, and sister Savita... I would also specially like to name my uncle Suresh and aunt Mangala. I stayed with them for four years and the encouragement they gave me was fantastic. I would consider myself as a very lucky guy to have such family members. My aunt used to get lunch for me whenever there was a match at Shivaji Park. Aunts are affectionate, but I am sure not many aunts would bring lunch boxes during a cricket match. Looking back at all these things, I feel I was the luckiest guy.
You spoke about family support. Were they curious to know about what you did in a match?
I started playing at the age of 11 and in the first three matches I was dismissed for “blobs.” When I got back home, I gave some excuse or the other for not scoring a run. They were all club matches. When I scored nine runs in the fourth game, I was thrilled. It was an under-15 club match at Shivaji Park. I had opened my account. Then onwards, there was a drastic change in my confidence. Obviously, everybody at home was curious to know what I did in a match.
More importantly, my brother Ajit, who has played some cricket, thought that I should join a club during the summer vacation. He had seen me play in the colony. It was nice to go to Shivaji Park every morning and afternoon and give it all. I wasn’t missing much at that age. I was with my friends and enjoying my cricket.
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There are instances of boys and girls who excel in sports at a young age, but do not get the encouragement to pursue it beyond a certain period. Academics become the top priority. Do you think given the right encouragement,, one can make a successful career in sports in India?
What’s important is a youngster should understand his or her parent’s mind. In my case, it was my father. He had given me total freedom, but at the same time he was very much bothered about what’s going to happen to my future. It is for the youngsters to use the freedom given to them by their parents constructively. I understood it. It is the responsibility of the individual to make his parents happy at the end of the day. Parents get great satisfaction after seeing the success of their children. So, it is the duty of the boys and girls to perform well in the sport they have ventured into and give the confidence to their parents. I think a sportsperson needs breakthroughs, luck and guidance. It has to come together at a specific time. It has to stay together. Of course, hard work is a must.
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As an 11-year-old, what did you understand of the freedom given to you by your father?
It was like “be on your own,” but “to be on your own, you have to work hard.” My father was concerned about me, but he did not put any sort of pressure on me.
In the first year I played for my school, I scored just one half century. But the next year, I scored three centuries. That was the time the family members may have thought that I would become successful playing cricket. They did not tell me; it’s my guess. In the third year, I got a lot of runs for my school and for Bombay and I stayed as the highest run-getter for three years.
Did you at any point of time think about the changes happening to you?
I did not. Because there was no time to think as everything happened very fast. And before I actually played for India, my mind was already set on playing for India. In 1989, I thought I was in the reckoning for India selection when I was included in the team for the Irani Cup. That was a big change. Then I was included in the team for the tour to Pakistan. That was another significant change in my career. From playing on Azad Maidan and Shivaji Park, I was to play Tests in Pakistan. From that match – the Irani Cup in 1989 – I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.
But I did feel a few changes and some pressure when I played in this selection trial match before I was picked for Bombay. I never used to wear a helmet in inter-school matches. It was a green-topped pitch at the Wankhede and the rival attack had Raju Kulkami, Rajendra Lele, Pradeep Kasliwal and Satish Pawar – all four of them fast bowlers. And I had gone in without a helmet. I did not realise then that if you don’t wear a helmet, the fast bowlers will bowl bouncers at you.
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Raju started bouncing the ball and those days it was something new to me. Because in school cricket, nobody tried to bowl bouncers. There was hardly a bowler who could make you play on the back foot. It was great experience for me playing good fast bowlers without the protection of the helmet. I got 55 runs and Sanjay Manjrekar got a century.
And that was the first big match when I realised there was a lot of difference between school cricket and top-class cricket. Because when I used to off-drive Raju Kulkarni, the shots would go to cover or point because of the speed.
What was the reaction of the Indian team when you were picked for the tour to Pakistan. Was anybody curious to know about you? Was anyone awestruck by your sheer presence in the team?
Yes, that was very exciting because I went to Pakistan as a schoolboy. My schoolmates were thrilled about it. In fact, they saw something different in me when I started attending the Bombay nets.
Well, it was a tour in which I could not really open out to the senior players. I could talk a lot to Salil Ankola, Vivek Razdan and Sanjay Manjrekar and the physio, Vishwas Raut. It was a tour in which, though I may have been only 16 years old, I wanted to prove many wrong. My intentions were to prove wrong some people’s feelings that these guys score in one Ranji season and get selected in the national team.
Well, it was hard for the senior players to mix around with me in Pakistan. I was only 16 years then. I don’t think anyone was awestruck by my presence.
Perhaps they were when I did not come back after being hit on the face by Waqar Younis. I was bleeding, but I just applied some ice and continued to bat. My teammates thought I would come back, because my nose was bleeding. Getting hurt on the face is the worst thing that can happen to a batsman. When I got back into the dressing room, I could make out that everybody felt happy that I stayed there. Maybe when I hit Abdul Qadir for three sixes...they may have been surprised by my shots.
From 16 to 22, it’s been non-stop cricket for you. Do you think you have missed out on fun because of serious cricket?
Maybe, yes. Because while in school I used to see movies with my friends. That could have continued if I had gone to college. I just played one match for my college. But no regrets for missing out on the movies. Because I was enjoying my game so much that it did not matter whether I went for a movie or not or went out to eat bhel puri with them. I had overcome all these aspects of life at a very young age. I have been a shy person always... Only when I went out with big groups, I used to enjoy. I like to stay on my own. So I didn’t really miss anything...nothing at all.
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Did you have any particular choice on the kind of movies?
No. The choice of movies depended on where we played the matches. If it was at Azad Maidan, we would see a movie at Sterling or any theatre around Azad Maidan. I still remember that if we had to get 300 runs to win a match, we would ensure that we scored only 280 that day so that we could knock off the runs in two or three overs the next morning and see another movie or go to the beach. I have played quite a lot of cricket on the beach. We always “planned out” a match at Shivaji Park to go to the beach.
You said you saw movies with friends. Were you ever distracted by them?
I would have, if I had paid too much attention to movies. At that age, you don’t realise you can be distracted. You just feel it’s part of life and enjoyment. But my priority was cricket. That’s that. I saw movies because my friends saw them and enjoyed them.
I don’t see movies these days. Most of the time I listen to music. I enjoy music. I have been listening to music for 10 years. I used to have the system playing next to the bathroom so that I could hear my favourite songs. I became obsessed with music thereafter. And now I consider music very important to me. I get sort of depressed if I don’t listen to music. When in school, I used to listen to George Michael, Madonna and Michael Jackson. I also listen to Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar. I am not fond of new songs. I like the old music and songs. Music just takes me to my own world. That’s the time I forget about cricket.
Cricket has taken you around the country. What has struck you the most about India?
Well, I like India’s culture. I don’t like Western culture at all where the family members don’t even meet each other for a whole year. Because they are busy. That cannot be an excuse. That’s not the culture I would go on with. You have to be with your family members as much as possible. And that’s the most important thing for me in life.
The most amazing thing about India is there are so many languages and still people manage to effectively communicate with each other. That’s the most exciting thing about India. Maybe that’s the best way to keep one’s secrets! Sometimes it is hard. When (Javagal) Srinath and (Anil) Kumble are talking to each other, I don’t understand. They are chatting away and I am still sitting with them... ha... ha.
Do you think you would have made it big in any other sport?
Maybe tennis. I used to see Wimbledon matches on TV and there was this peculiarity of the entire colony supporting Bjorn Borg and myself supporting John McEnroe. Maybe because of that I was very much into tennis. Another player I liked then was Jimmy Connors. Because of watching tennis, I may have taken to tennis.
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What do you like most about John McEnroe?
His attitude. He is an aggressive player. Somehow I like him because he got angry all the time (I get angry, but I keep it to myself). He put in a lot of effort and was determined. I really admired McEnroe.
You are a devastating batsman. Have you ever wished to be a devastating bowler?
I with I could bowl fast... But...mmm, my physique. I wish I was a hostile fast bowler.
Talking of fast bowlers, do you think India needs another like Srinath?
I think Srinath himself should concentrate on pace and bounce than swing. Srinath can be one of the quickest bowlers in the world. So if Srinath has the ability to bowl as fast as anyone, he should do it. He is capable of doing it...beating the batsmen by sheer pace and bounce. I think this is the right time for him to go all out.
He can bowl in bursts. I feel that Srinath should bowl five-over bursts...the ball should go like a rocket.
Salil Ankola bowled well this season. (Paras) Mhambrey, too. Abey (Kuruvilla) also bowled well. But of the lot Salil went flat out in every match. That’s what any captain would expect from his player. Salil is running in very well, generating good pace and bounce.
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Where do you think Indian cricket is headed? Can India be a real force in international cricket?
I think we have to be more aggressive while bowling. We have lost games because of bad batting, too. But we need good fast bowlers to succeed at international level. Our spinners are not going to get much help in countries like Australia.
Does the lack of quality spinners in a country which has produced great spinners surprise you?
I think out spinners are trying their best. But they should go and talk to the former spinners and find out which is the delivery that would trouble particular batsmen. Bishen Bedi’s arm ball was superb. It came on so fast.
You have never faced Bedi. How do you say Bedi’s arm ball came on very fast?
You could feel the strength in his shoulders even while he was giving practice for slip catches. He never used a bat. He used his left hand for it. His left hand was very strong, I would say.
Obviously 1994-95 has been your best season. Is it not?
I would say so. The best I have ever had. Towards the start of the season, I failed in the first three matches. And that was a good wakeup call. I had a good hundred against Australia in the Singer Cup.
Maybe I relaxed after that. But that was a good wakeup call at the right time. Because it was not very late and I could get back into form and the whole season went off very well. Losing the Test at Chandigarh was a big disappointment. We played one bad session which cost us the series.
(This interview was first published in the Sportstar Magazine dated 06/05/1995)